Back in 2009, I wrote a short post about legendary interpreter Peter Less, a Holocaust survivor who interpreted at the Nurembeg trials. After a quiet and happy childhood in Koenigsburg, Germany, Peter fled to Switzerland at age 17 when the Nazi party rose to power. Although Peter’s mother assured him that the Nazi regime would not last long and that the family would soon be reunited, she, along with Peter’s father, grandmother and only sister died in the Holocaust, leaving Peter as the only surviving member of his family.
In the face of this almost unimaginable tragedy, Peter showed amazing resilience, attending the University of Geneva on a refugee scholarship program and earning his undergraduate degree and then his interpreting degree, becoming one of the first trained simultaneous interpreters in Europe. At age 25, Peter was one of three interpreters from his University of Geneva class to be hired to interpret at the Nuremberg trials, where he interpreted the testimony of the very war criminals who had murdered his family. Again, Peter’s sense of integrity and resilience were apparent, as he committed to faithfully interpret the testimony of the Nazis, believing that they deserved a fair trial and that the world deserved to know what had happened in the concentration camps.
Peter Less ultimately emigrated to the United States, where he worked as an attorney in Chicago for over 50 years. In 2006, he was awarded the Gode Medal, the American Translators Association’s highest honor. In the post linked above, you can watch a video of Peter describing his experiences, and read an interview between Peter and interpreter Tanya Gesse.
Peter is now 91 years old and in failing health; he is in hospice care. Nataly Kelly has set up a beautiful online tribute to Peter, along with a link to submit a tribute or thank-you of your own. Nataly reports that Peter’s daughter is reading him these messages daily, and that she (Nataly) will assemble all messages submitted by September 25 into an album to be presented to Peter. Thanks to Nataly for setting up this lovely project, and please submit your own message, even if it’s just a few short sentences of thanks to a true hero of translation and interpreting!